extropians: Re: Clint & Robert on "Faith in Science"

Re: Clint & Robert on "Faith in Science"

Robert Owen (rowen@technologist.com)
Mon, 25 Oct 1999 01:47:32 -0400

Robert J Bradbury wrote:

> On Sun, 24 Oct 1999, Clint O'Dell wrote:
> >
> > When you try something 1000 times and it "accidentally" produces the same
> > result all 1000 times then it's not an "accident". No faith involved.
> > You still haven't shown me where faith enters science.
> >

I missed Clint's original post. But the question naturally arises of the level of confidence one may have in the expectation that, if a fair coin is tossed in the air and allowed to fall randomly 1000 times, the result will be exactly 500 heads and 500 tails? Answer: very little. How about 10,000 times, or 100,000 times? Can this increase your level of confidence? So, Clint, why do you think that at some number of tosses the result OUGHT TO BE exactly 50% tails, 50% heads? Answer: because your BELIEVE in the "Laws of Probability". Can you prove this belief rationally justified even though one cannot possibly design an experiment to test these laws (hypotheses) empirically?

> Faith is involved if you "believe" it will produce a different
> result the 1001st time. :-) In science you trust your senses
> and rational thought. In religion you trust your beliefs.

The necessity for "faith", Robert, began with the formulation of the scientific method itself: "Induction" was first formalized by Frances Bacon in the 17th century. In his book, Novum Organum (1620/ 1952), Bacon advised that facts be assimilated without bias to reach a conclusion. The method of induction he suggested is the principal way in which humans traditionally have produced generalizations that permit predictions. But there is a problem with induction.

It is both impossible to make all observations pertaining to a given situation and illogical to secure all relevant facts for all time, past, present and future and for all places in the universe. However, only by making all relevant observations throughout all time and space could one say that a final valid conclusion had been made. This is the problem of induction. On a personal level, this problem is of little consequence, but in science the problem is significant. Scientists formulate laws and theories that are supposed to hold true in all places and for all time but the problem of induction makes such a guarantee impossible.

Science has devised several workarounds, e.g. the use of statistical methods in the analysis of data, despite limited sampling. There are of course others. But after all is said and done, your assertion that faith is required is valid provided you extend it to include belief in your abstract methodologies of data processing as well.

Thank you for your balanced statement,


Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA